The biggest problem preachers and teachers face

Try this sometime. You have an image in mind of a person you have thought up. Now, find someone with some art ability and describe your creation to the point that they sketch him/her exactly as you envision them.

Good luck with that.

It’s almost impossible.

And yet, this process goes on all the time.  Here’s the way it works….

A friend contacts me. “Will you illustrate my book?”  I hem and haw, give non-answers (“Well, tell me what you have in mind.” “What exactly do you need?” “When do you need it?” “How many drawings will it be?”), and look for ways–true confession coming up here!–to get out of doing it.

Tackling such an assignment is guaranteed to age you prematurely, an exercise in frustration.

As I explained to an author recently while we were in the process of going back and forth with her descriptions and my attempts to capture them on paper, like a bad tennis match, “It’s this way with every writer who asks someone to illustrate her book. She begins thinking it’s going to be simple. ‘Just draw me a warrior holding a sword.’ Then, she looks at his sketch and wants him just a little taller. Next time, could you put a scowl on his face and not make him look so nice.  And could we change his clothes? And put armor on him.  Brown hair. Green eyes. Oh, and he’s wearing a cape.”

Multiply that times the number of characters the writer wants drawn and you see in a heartbeat the difficulty.

Sometimes when I’m sketching people at a public event–tomorrow, I’m drawing children for a couple of hours at a department store in the local mall–invariably, someone will say, “You could get a job working for the police.”

Nope. Not in a zillion years. I respond, “It’s hard enough drawing when I’m looking at the person. But imagine when all you have to go on is the memory of someone talking to you and trying to get that on paper. No thanks.”

I do admire those who can pull that off. I’m not one of them.

Preachers and teachers do something similar.

They have a mental image of some event, some truth, some lesson, some reality which they want to transfer into the brains and hearts of the hearers.  To do this, they employ several tools…

–The speakers use words.  Words are amazing things: sounds we form using a combination of breath and larynx and mouth, which we all have agreed will mean something or other.  One wonders who in the distant past ever thought of making those sounds–grunts?–stand for this reality or that one.

–The speakers work hard to find the perfect words and to arrange them into easy to follow presentations, perhaps using stories or word-pictures. When the speaker says, “Let me tell you a story,” the hearers tend to perk up and give their undivided attention. If his story is well-chosen and its placement is ideal, he can achieve something amazing with those words.

–The speakers count on the willing participation of the hearers.  Unless members of the congregation or audience decide to meet you halfway, this is not going to work. Pity the schoolteacher whose class meets just after lunch. Everyone wants a nap, including her.  An uphill job, bless her heart.

-Those teaching and preaching God’s message have an additional Helper: the Holy Spirit. Ideally, He prepares the hearts and minds of the hearers, anoints the words of the speaker, and then performs a kind of divine alchemy inside the listeners during the delivery and reception of the message.  It’s pretty wonderful, and something pastors count on heavily.  Many a preacher has found himself saying in a panic moments before the worship service begins, “Lord! If you’re not going to bless this today, I’m in a lot of trouble!”  Indeed he is.

God had the same problem, incidentally—needing to convey His message to earthlings in an unforgettable, workable way.

I’m certain you know what He did. He used a Word.

Here is how the Apostle John put it…

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:1,14)

And again…

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life….what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us….” (I John 1:1,3).

God in Heaven–the Author–put His message in a Person whom He called “The Word” and sent that One to earth so people could see and hear and touch, and believe.

Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

We get the Message, Lord. (Oh, and thank you very much.)

There is a sense in which we earthlings are reproducing Jesus in this world.  Or, to be more exact, the Holy Spirit is producing Christlike people in this world.  The Apostle Paul said, “But we all…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

We shrink from making such a statement, but there is a sense in which we ought to be able to say to people, “You want to see God? (or Jesus?)  Look at me.”  And also, “Look at him.” Or her.

That is actually the plan, in a manner of speaking.  (We must not press this metaphor too hard, because nothing the Spirit will do in you or me in this life will detract from the unique thing He has done in Jesus Christ.  All our Christlikeness should simply point others to Jesus.)

It’s an odd thing. The more like Jesus Christ I become in this world, the more I become my authentic self, and less a clone of anyone or a copy or reproduction of anything.

Those who fear coming to Jesus because they don’t want to become a clone of some Christian whom they dislike need not to worry. That is not going to happen.

He will make you into the you He had in mind from the beginning. And that’s a pretty wonderful thing, incidentally.

“Dear Lord, let Your divine Image be seen in this world in my life, through my words and deeds and mannerisms.  May people believe in Jesus because of me, as far-fetched as that may seem. For Thy glory. Amen.”



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